By Travis Birch
My newspaper fire log, that’s what! When I was in the early years of scouting, not yet a Webelo, one of our tasks was to roam the neighborhood to collect newspapers for recycling. This was back in the seventies, and it wasn’t uncommon for the average American to have a stack of newspapers piling up in the corner of their garage. Kids would randomly knock on doors, one house after another, making their way down the street asking for old newspapers. I learned quickly that the older generation of the day, the ‘Greatest Generation’, those that lived through World War II tended to have the biggest stashes. They survived and thrived by recycling everything, finding the best out of what was on hand. I cherry-picked those houses, carting wagon upon wagon of papers back to my house to deliver to the next scout meeting.
I remember the look on my father’s face when he saw the backyard stacked with newspapers. A big part of me thought that he was going to flip out. He smiled, and said, “This is fantastic Travis, you know what this means?” I stood there smiling at my father’s pleasure, quietly letting what I thought was a rhetorical question pass, when he exclaimed, “We’re making fire logs tonight!” My eyes widened as I tried to make my escape because my dad always found a way to take the fun out of everything by applying extra work to it.
The upside is you can find another use for your old papers. You gain a reliable source of a fire starter, and you can destroy old documents in a satisfactory manner. I have learned a new method for making newspaper logs. It involves outlaying fifteen to thirty dollars, but it delivers a consistent log when done properly each time. Let me share my dad’s method, then I’ll move on to the new way.
With dad, it was simple and economical. Tightly roll a broadsheet style newspaper. An example of this style is the New York Times. Roll it to the fold mark, then add the second section. Continue this process, keeping the roll tight. When you achieve the diameter log that you want, tape it off with masking tape to maintain the structure, then tie it off with cotton twine to keep it all together. Ideally, wear some latex gloves to avoid the newspaper ink from rubbing your hands. Dip it in a 5-gallon bucket of water that you have set aside. Then let it set on a ventilated rack to dry thoroughly for about three months. This is obviously a project that you must do today, to benefit you months later. The paper becomes brittle and lights easily when it is fully dried. I have seen some newspaper logs burn for 20-25 minutes. This is a great way to start a log fire or a coal fire for a pot belly stove. As I rolled my latest log, I could hear my father’s voice telling me I wasn’t making it tight enough.
The next method, one we didn’t have when I was a kid, is the newspaper brick press, brick press. You can buy a model for 15-30 dollars. You can even buy one that makes multiple bricks at a time. The process is simple enough. Fill a five-gallon bucket with water. Tear up newspapers to about two or three-inch strips. You can add your junk mail to this mix as well. Let them soak for a few minutes. Pull the strips out, and place them on the brick building device. Lay them flat for the best results. When you fill it to your desired level, pull the levers together and compress your brick. The perforated bottom and top will allow you express the water. Remove the wet brick, tie it off with cotton twine to maintain the structure, and allow to dry for a couple of months. The bricks tend to dry off quicker than the rolled logs. You can expect that one brick will burn for about 15 minutes.
You’ll find that the dried papers in both types catch fire quickly, making for an excellent fire starter. Do this project several times throughout the year and you will find that you have created a fine fire source, you are recycling, so you’re setting a good example for your family in terms of the environment, and most of all, it’s an inexpensive way to make a difference.